Kalaripayattu – One of the oldest Martial Arts in India

The origin of martial arts in India dates back to around 3,000 years ago and Kalaripayattu, which is one of the oldest martial arts in India. The word Kalaripayattu depicts the dance form in true sense – “Kalari” meaning training ground (battlefield) and “Payattu” means fight. This form of martial arts focuses on improving your body’s flexibility and children as small as 7 years are trained for it. It is also said that Kung Fu and Karate (popular forms of Chinese martial arts) have evolved from it. 

History of Kalaripayattu

Since this art was born in Kerala, it is believed that in ancient times, this martial art was followed by the Nairs, who were responsible for the safety of Kerala state. Over the years, it became a popular self-defense technique in the 12th century. Around 500 years back, the local kings of Kerala used to solve the conflicts by fixing “Ankam” (a game of death between two fighters). The respective fighters were trained on Kalaripayattu and the king representing the winning fighter would be the victor.

Under the rule of Tipu Sultan (ruler of Mysore from 1782 to 1799) after his victory in Kerala, the Kalaripayattu institution had a setback. With the British dominance, the tradition of this art received a deathblow when they imposed a ban on carrying arms. Therefore, this led to an end of the Kalari era and eventually Kalaripayattu.

In early 20th century, Kalaripayattu was reborn with the prevalence of the national movement in Kerala pertaining to its culture, tradition and education.

Facts about Kalaripayattu you would love to know!

  • It is believed to be the mother of all martial arts.This art is inspired from the majestic power and strength of wild animals especially the lion and tiger.
  • The place for performing Kalaripayattu is called Kalari. It is a handmade pit with a pounded earth floor covered with straws. It also boasts a platform (Poothara) that houses the guardian deity of the Kalari. 
  • It is said that around 1,000 years ago, Bodhidharma (a Budddhist monk) learnt this art in India and introduced it to the Chinese people. Later, he made changes to it and named it – Shaolin Kung Fu.
  • This art form gained huge prominence when Hollywood superstar Jackie Chan brought a major change in the life of G Sathyanarayanan (Kerala’s popular martial arts champion) by inviting him to be a part of his film “The Myth”.
  • In 2013, a Bollywood star Vidyut Jamwal learnt Kalaripayattu for his movie “Commando – a one man army”.
  • Hollywood also adopted this fighting style in films namely Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’,’Kill Bill’ and “The Last Legion”.
  • Bollywood movies ‘Ondanondu kaladalli’, ‘Indian’ and ‘Asoka’ rekindled its prominence once again.

Closing Thoughts

Kalaripayattu is a thrilling and deadly dance form that holds links with the dance forms of Kerala and martial arts. This makes it an integral part of the history of Kerala. Very less people know are aware of its role in inventing the world-famous Martial Arts. So on your next trip to Kerala, prep up yourself for a captivating Kalaripayattu!

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